Bruce Boudreau was in a surprisingly jolly mood this morning.
“Woke up this morning, sun came up, we’re still first place in the whole Western Conference, so it’s not like the world is falling,” the Wild coach said after his team meeting before a very optional skate here in Sunrise, Fla.
As I stared out the window of my flight this morning and over the plume of smoke above the Everglades, I noticed the sun, too.
Florida’s on fire right now!
Good day from my old stomping grounds, the former National Car Rental Center/Office Depot Center.
Boudreau’s message to the Wild following consecutive regulation losses for the first time in four months?
“Don’t get down,” Boudreau said. “I mean, just because things don’t work out right for us, we can correct this thing pretty quickly here. That’s what we plan on doing. It’s been the perfect storm of teams we’re playing recently. They all need to win, they’re all motivated to win, they’re all rested to win, but at the same token, it’s a great test, and it’s a great challenge.
“If you want to be a player in May and June, these are challenges you have to accept and take.”
The Wild faces yet another desperate opponent tonight in the Florida Panthers.
It has been all downhill for the Panthers since sweeping a five-game road trip. The Panthers are 1-5-1 in their past seven with no regulation wins since at St. Louis on Feb. 20.
This is the second and final meeting of the season with Minnesota. The Wild blew Florida out at home, 5-1, on Dec. 13. The Wild’s 14-3-3 all-time vs. Florida, 6-3-1 in Sunrise.
Matt Dumba gets back in the lineup tonight. I’d assume it’s for Gustav Olofsson with Jonas Brodin moving back to the left side.
Darcy Kuemper vs. James Reimer.
Kuemper’s 2-0-1 in his past three decisions, but he was yanked in his last outing after giving up five goals in an eventual win at Winnipeg on Feb. 28.
Reimer, in for an injured Roberto Luongo, believe it or not is 3-1 against Minnesota with a 0.48 goals-against average, .984 save percentage and two shutouts in five games (four starts).
No Wild forward changes, Boudreau said, meaning Jordan Schroeder is scratched again. I think Boudreau has thought about sitting Charlie Coyle (no points in 10 games, minus-8), but actually when I watched the game over again quickly this morning, Coyle may have been Minnesota’s best forward last night and had five shots.
Thomas Vanek will face the Wild for the first time since being bought out. Remember, he was supposed to face Minnesota last month with Detroit, but he got hurt the day before in Columbus. Here’s the story I wrote to advance his return that never happened.
He’ll play alongside fellow former Gopher Nick Bjugstad tonight.
“I’ve been watching him since I was a little kid,” Bjugstad said. “Just to be on the same line with him is pretty exciting. He brings a lot to this lineup and adds depth offensively. I know what his skillset is around the net. You get it to him around the net, he’s probably going to bury it.”
Bjugstad said it’s imperative the Panthers get on a role starting with “one of the best teams in the league. We have to find a way to compete and get on a roll here. Beating these guys would be huge for us.”
Boudreau wants a lead tonight. He’s tired of the Wild playing from behind nightly, saying, “It’s a tough job mentally when you have to play catchup all the time.”
I asked Boudreau more about his comment last night that it’s a coincidence the Wild’s in a rut since the Martin Hanzal/Ryan White trade. There’s a reason he’s changing the lines nightly with the byproduct being different roles for some players and a different look and style by the team.
“We’ve had to do that, and I want to end that as quick as possible,” Boudreau said. “You have to see who works with Marty and who works with Whitey. Believe me, I hate moving the lines around as much as we’re moving them right now, but it’ll be very soon – I’d say the last 15 games we want to get into a set combination and get ready for the playoffs.”
Hanzal has three assists in six games, is minus-3 and disturbingly has won only 44.9 percent of his draws.
“You’ve got to understand,” Boudreau said. “He spent 10 years in one organization and the last seven I think with the same coach. It’s an adjustment period for him. I know when I moved from organization to organization how different it is, whether it’s good or bad, it’s different. We’re trying to find out what his role is, and who’s best suited to play with him on that role. That’s why he’s had almost different linemates every night. We’re hoping that ends as well pretty soon, that he knows his role, that he knows his linemates and that his linemates know him.”
Hanzal admits he’s having a tough time adapting both on and off the ice.
“It’s different, it’s new, something new for me, but I’m trying to just focus on hockey right now and leave everything behind me because this is where I belong right now and I want to help this team to win,” he said. “I’m trying to focus 100 percent on hockey.”
But there’s little doubt when you’re comfortable in Arizona forever and then you get uprooted to a team that essentially has been on the road since being traded, it has been tough living out of a suitcase, in hotel after hotel and with his wife and 5-year-old boy and 2 1/2-year-old daughter in the Czech Republic.
Turns out, because Hanzal knew he’d be traded somewhere, his family returned to Europe a week before the trade. He desperately misses them and expects them to arrive in Minnesota when the team returns from this five-game trip. He also hopes by then he’ll have a place set up to live in that’s not a hotel.
“When you don’t see your kids, your family, it’s tough,” he said. “It’s something new for me. This is hockey. Sometimes you get traded. I just have to suck it up and play.”
Asked how dramatically the systems are between Minnesota and Arizona, Hanzal said the penalty kill is about the only thing that’s very similar.
“There some different stuff,” Hanzal said. “It’s a new coach, right? He wants something different than my old coach wanted, so it’s different. But I’m trying to adjust myself and hopefully I’ll adjust quick enough.”
I’d assume new first, third and fourth lines tonight. I didn’t like the makeup of last night’s right from the morning skate. I’d think tonight makes a whole lot more sense. I’ll tweet em during warmups.
Lastly, Nino Niederreiter faces no discipline from the knee-on-knee with Tyler Johnson last night.
That’s it for now. I have a bunch of cool stories in the works, by the way, so try to grab the paper or come back to the site during the next several off-days (actually, technically they’d run day of the games).
I’ll be on KFAN at 5 p.m. CT.